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“The Twilight Zone” (2019): Episode Five Review

Jacob Tremblay as President Oliver Foley in “The Wunderkind”

Jacob Tremblay as President Oliver Foley in “The Wunderkind.”

Andy Samberg’s comedic opus Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping – a spoof on modern pop music stardom – features a scene in which Samberg’s character Conner4Real shits in the bathroom of the Anne Frank House. The scene is a riff on Justin Bieber’s infamous note left in the Anne Frank House’s guestbook: “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.” David Ehrlich wrote in his review that Popstar‘s satire is not quite as absurd as the real-life event it criticizes. “There’s no getting around one stubborn truth about this frequently hilarious movie,” he writes. “The incident that may have inspired it was also the incident that rendered it unnecessary.”

The same can be said of The Twilight Zone’s newest episode “The Wunderkind,” in which an eleven-year-old child is elected President of the United States. The episode takes this premise to very heavy-handed and obvious places, offering nothing new to our already frantic discourse concerning the White House. “Huh, doesn’t this childlike behavior remind us of a certain orange-faced Oval Office occupant?” asks the episode’s writer, as if they are the first to deem Trump’s conduct childlike.

Local cute boy Oliver Foley (Jacob Tremblay) initially rises to moderate fame as a lets-play YouTuber who pwns the noobz in Fortnite – he makes a point to say his first content endeavors centered on Minecraft, but he is too old for that “little boy” game now – but shoots to viral stardom when he announces his candidacy for President. Disgraced campaign manager Raff Hanks (John Cho) sees Oliver’s video and immediately pounces on him as a serious candidate. Raff ran his previous campaign into the ground, but Oliver is a chance at a new beginning.

John Cho as Raff Hanks and Jacob Tremblay as President Oliver Foley in “The Wunderkind.”

Oliver clicks with the American public instantly. His statements bestowing the virtues of “being nice to other people” and “having more Star Wars movies” seep into the citizenship’s hearts. His apparent goodness makes him a strong enough candidate as any, so the public believes, and he skyrockets to the top of the polls instantly. Despite several poor debate performances displaying no true knowledge of public policy – sound bites include “taxes are good except when they’re bad, but they’re mostly good, right?” – Oliver utilizes his innocent charm to cement his throne as America’s Sweetheart, climbing his way to the American Presidency.

Oliver’s brattiness is teased throughout the episode through screaming matches with is parents or refusal to participate in debate prep, but only when he ascends to the Oval Office does his character truly sour. His demands as Commander-in-Chief turn quite extreme. He calls for Nintendo to give all American’s a free Gameboy or he will impose a million-dollar-per-Gameboy tax, burying the company in a pit of financial failure. He wants to “fire” all of Congress when they request his medical report. The aides, rather than pushing against Oliver’s demands, follow his wishes blindly. Any confrontation leads to an immediate firing.

The Trump allegory is painfully hamfisted. Stories of Trump’s inadequate knowledge of governmental functions and refusal to consider other’s points-of-view are far too numerous for me to mention. But the attempt at political commentary in “The Wunderkind” proves useless as it is preaching to the choir. No Trump supporter will see “The Wunderkind” and think, “Oh gee, maybe Trump really is bad.” Nor will any Trump nay-sayers come away with new insights on his Presidency. The episode regurgitates familiar rhetoric surrounding the Trump era with no new perspective to offer. “The Wunderkind” is not trying to make an argument; it is inviting already like-minded viewers to join in on beating its dead horse. Trump is a petulant child! We get it!

We have seen a lot of incredible Trump Era art that insightfully examines what led to his Presidency and his failings as a leader (BlackKlansman, Sorry to Bother You, The Death of Stalin, and The Favourite are four examples from 2018 alone). But those films are adding to the conversation and try to point out toxic aspects of the United States that were already thriving before Trump took office. “The Wunderkind” has no similar ambition. It is content to say “Trump is bad” and leave it at that. In a show as hellbent on confronting questions of American identity as this new Twilight Zone revival is, “The Wunderkind” single-layered identity as an anti-Trump narrative does not bravely enough consider what it is about Trump that is so troubling. It is more comforting to point and mock than it is to look inward.

Episodes of “The Twilight Zone” are available exclusively at CBS All Access.

Article written by Adrian Bryant